31st Jul 2014

When two people have a child together, they become linked through that child. Even if the relationship ends and they each go on to marry other people, they still need to work together to help raise and support any children they have together. Making joint custody work may be one of the hardest things for divorced couples to, but there are ways to make it easier and more successful.

1. Understanding the Difference

Over the last few generations, how people view custody has undergone a drastic transformation. In the past, one parent had custody and the other had visitation. The parent with custody was in charge of most decisions regarding schooling, medical treatment and other issues. With joint custody, both parents spend a good deal of time with the children every week. While they may live in different households, they’re still expected to work together when it comes to important decisions. Understanding that you’re still effectively a team when it comes to children will help make co-parenting easier.

2. Find Another Support System

It’s easy to vent to the child when you’re frustrated with the other parent. However, this is harmful to children. Countless research shows that it does harm the children when you speak ill of the other parent. This why you need to follow the Golden Rule around your child and remain silent if you have nothing nice to say. An appropriate support system can help you vent your anger and frustration towards your ex, so make dates to go out with friends, join a support group or invest in individual counseling to help work through the difficult feelings without involving your child.

3. Focus on the Children

It’s hard to take yourself out of the equation, but joint custody really is about the children. Your goal is still to raise a responsible, young adult that you can be proud of, and that won’t change just be because you’re no longer living with the other parent. Remember that the only reward here is seeing your child happy and well-adjusted because both of his parents are working together.

4. Be Realistic, and Be Honest

Many couples struggle with the schedule involved in co-parenting. It may be that your work schedule makes it hard to pick up your child right after school on a certain day, but you need to be honest about that. Joint custody schedules can be very flexible, but it’s better to address any challenges when you’re initially working on the details. Be realistic about what you can handle regarding custody schedules, school transportation and other fine points. Having a plan that both parties can work with is a key part of joint custody.

5. Agree on Communication

When you were married, you probably spent a little time each day discussing the children and things that were going on in their lives. While you may not want to speak with your ex, the need for communication is just as great after you separate. Effectively informing each other of different events that are coming up can help avoid problems and arguments. You can link together the different schedules with Google calendars and other apps, and you can also stay in communication with finances by using expense logs. This minimizes surprises and the conflicts that go along with them. Using email or text messages for non-urgent communications may be the most agreeable way to communicate other messages.

6. Agree to Review the Plan Regularly

Needs and circumstances change for families on a regular basis. This is true of married couples and single parents alike. In some cases, the changes will make things more difficult for one parent. Rather than waiting until the stress level is building and you’re arguing with your ex-partner more frequently, agree to review the plan on a regular basis. Sitting down once every six months or so to discuss what’s working and what could be improved is a great way to maintain a plan that works for everyone.

7. Include the Children

Children of all ages have definite opinions, and you’ll be surprised by their observations and ideas sometimes. Rather than making all the decisions without getting any input from the children involved, let them have a voice. How much input they can give will depend on their age, but simply listening to their desires and concerns can help you set up a joint custody plan that suits their needs, also. There will be times when you choose something different because it’s in your child’s best interest, but your son or daughter will still appreciate having the opportunity to express their feelings.

8. Picking Battles Carefully

If you have a 9:00 pm bedtime in your house and your spouse lets the child stay up until 10:00 pm, then you may feel like this needs to be addressed. However, you can stop and look at it logically before fighting this battle. If your child is functioning just fine with the later bedtime, but you need the earlier bedtime for certain reasons, then you can explain that the rules are sometimes a little different at the two homes and that’s okay. Before deciding that a situation must be addressed and corrected, ask yourself if it’s really worth the stress and frustration. Situations that should be addressed immediately include medication changes or medical issues, school choices and parenting time.

You can learn how to be effective co-parents, but it will require effort and sacrifice from both of you. It’s worth the effort to raise a happy and well-adjusted child, but it will require being honest and open with each other, communicating clearly, and carefully choosing your battles. Try to work together whenever possible, and include your child in the process. Remember that this is all about the child, and keep your focus on what’s best for him or her. Finally, find a better support system for yourself so that you can air complaints and vent frustrations away from your child. This allows you and your ex to still present a united front to your kids, and it’s also better for your child’s emotional well-being.